Battery Of Comet Probe May Run Out Of Power Early

The European Space Agency has, for the first time in history, landed an unmanned probe on the surface of a comet in the culmination of a 10-year mission.

What We Know So Far

  • The spacecraft landed on the comet around 10.30 a.m. ET/3.30 p.m. GMT.
  • The lander's thrusters, intended to stop it bouncing off the comet, were broken.
  • Its harpoons, intended to grab the comet's surface, did not fire and the craft bounced three times before settling.
  • The craft, called Philae, began drilling into the comet on Friday.
  • The 2.5-mile-wide comet is traveling at 41,000 miles per hour. It is 317 million miles from Earth, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
  • The overall mission cost $1.6 billion.
  • Check back here and visit BuzzFeed News on Twitter for updates.


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British scientist Matt Taylor apologized Friday for the shirt he wore the day the probe landed on the comet:

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A guide to the comet probe:

Tweeter’s guide to @Philae2014’s instruments: Short descriptions of lander's 10 experiments

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ESA scientists discuss the latest developments with the spacecraft on Friday:

View this video on YouTube
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#UPDATE Europe's robot lab Philae may not have enough power to send results of drill into the surface of comet: ESA

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The spacecraft is now drilling into the comet, even though scientists Friday said they're not quite sure where it is:

Last night MUPUS hammered the penetrator into the ground. APXS also got to work! My team is currently checking how they did #CometLanding

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.@Philae2014's incredible panoramic postcard from the surface of #67P #CometLanding

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Here's the probe as it descended to the comet, away from its transporter, Rosetta:

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Here's where the probe landed:

There we are! RT @esa Ulamec @Philae2014 thought to be in blue; 1st touchdown close to planned site red #CometLanding

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The French space agency CNES has confirmed that the probe has moved from its planned landing location.

CNES: Philae travelled a considerable distance after first touchdown, because initial descent images suggested a flat surface. #CometLanding

CNES confirms: #Philae is currently located at ~1 kilometer from its initial touchdown point. #CometLanding

This could be bad news if it means there's not enough light available for the probe to recharge, as Philae's initial battery life is only 60 hours.

Indications now that @Philae2014 might not be in a place where it can recharge its batteries. Poor lighting.

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The ESA has tweeted the the probe's first images from the comet, confirming it's safely attached.

Welcome to a comet! First CIVA images confirm @Philae2014 is on surface of #67P! #CometLanding

Philae also tweeted about its landing on the comet. It bounced three times, with the first bounce taking over two hours due to the comet's low gravity.

Hello! An update on life on #67P - Yesterday was exhausting! I actually performed 3 landings,15:33, 17:26 & 17:33 UTC. Stay tuned for more

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The BBC has reported that the Philae probe is now "stable" on the comet, after scientists were able to re-establish contact.

Robot probe Philae, that made historic landing on comet, now stable after failing to attach to surface, BBC learns

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Here's the current status of the spacecraft:

Philae made an unplanned bounce, according to Stephan Ulamec, head of the lander operation.

The Associated Press reported:

Thrusters that were meant to push the lander, called Philae, onto the surface, and harpoons that would have anchored it to the comet failed to deploy properly. Initial data from the spacecraft indicated that it lifted off again, turned and then came to rest.

"Today we didn't just land once; we maybe even landed twice," said Ulamac.

Scientists were still trying to fully understand what happened but so far most of the instruments are working fine and sending back data as hoped, he added.

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A close-up of the comet:

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While lander is on the comet and sending back data, there is some concern that it might not be completely stable.

Update from mission control: Philae had a soft landing, and the anchors did not shoot, which is a concern, because it might not be fixed

Wait, belay that update from Cologne says lander is moving....which means it is not stable..

More analysis of @Philae2014 telemetry indicates harpoons did not fire as 1st thought. Lander in gr8 shape. Team looking at refire options

I’m on the surface but my harpoons did not fire. My team is hard at work now trying to determine why. #CometLanding

Team ESA is now trying to decide if they will fire the anchors again.

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Captain Kirk approves:

.@WilliamShatner touchdown confirmed for away team @philae2014, captain!

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"Philae is on the comet," ESA announces.

The Philae lander has successfully landed on the surface of comet 67P. Stephan Ulamec, Philae lander manager, told a crowded Mission Control: "We are there. Philae is talking to us. First thing he told us is that the harpoons have been fired, rewound, and the landing gear has been moved inside — so we are sitting on the surface... We are on the comet."

"This is a big step for human civilisation": ESA director Dordain. "The biggest problem with success is it looks easy." #cometlanding

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Celebrations at ESA Mission Control:

They're clapping!!!~!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11

Touchdown! My new address: 67P! #CometLanding

However, we're still waiting for official confirmation that the landing was fully successful.

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There are some nervous faces in the ESA mission control room as they wait for news of Philae's landing attempt.

People are suddenly looking quite a bit more concerned in mission control...trying to read the emotions on Andrea Accomazzo's face, not sure

As a reminder, the landing attempt got a lot more difficult after ESA announced that Philae's thrusters could not be activated.

The thrusters would have been used to halp make sure the lander did not simply bounce off the comet's surface in the extremely low gravity. With the thrusters out of action, Philae will have to reply on harpooning the surface of the comet in order to land safely.

It’s weird to think Philae is down, and the signal from it is just now passing by Mars on its way to Earth.

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We're now into Philae's touchdown window — it may have already landed. But due to the distance from Earth, we won't know if it has for around 28 minutes.

Waiting for touch down - window is open. Landing expected 17:02 CET #CometLanding

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This is the first image of the lander as it departs Rosetta for its rendezvous with the comet.

Epic view of Philae on the way to the comet!

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Rosetta has traveled around 4 billion miles on its journey of more than 10 years.

The complex route to comet 67P involved three flybys of Earth and one of Mars, as Rosetta used their gravitational pull to slingshot them into the path of the the comet, which is currently around 317 million miles away.

To give you a sense of the scales involved: That's like standing in New York, and throwing a grain of sand so it hits a specific kangaroo near Perth, Australia. After circling the Earth five times first.

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Here's the first picture from the Philae lander after its separation:

.@philae2014’s first postcard just after separation – it’s of me! #CometLanding Credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA

It shows the Rosetta orbiter, lit by a sunbeam, as Philae says farewell to it and starts its journey toward the comet's surface.

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Here's a picture of the landing site on comet 67P, where the Philae lander will attempt to touch down in a few hours:

The image — a mosaic of four different pictures — was taken two weeks ago from a distance of just under 18 miles, as Rosetta began its final approach to the comet.

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Here's how you pronounce the name of the comet's landing site, Agilkia:
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If you've ever wondered what a comet "singing" sounds like, here's your answer:

This is an ESA recording of the "oscillations in the magnetic field in the comet's environment," sped up so it's audible to the human ear. The "song," as ESA describes it, was recorded by Rosetta's Plasma Consortium set of instruments, which take "measurements of the plasma environment around the comet."

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Here are the mission control directors reacting to the probe successfully separating into two parts:

Hot pics! Live action in @ESA_Rosetta control room during critical separation #CometLanding

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This is the size of the comet vs. Paris:

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The project's scientists are very dedicated:

Matt Taylor, @ESA_Rosetta project scientist on #CometLanding has the coolest tattoo (pic @BBCBreakfast):

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What's going on? Some background:

The European Space Agency is hoping to soft-land a probe on a comet for the first time in history.

The comet, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, is essentially a hunk of dust and ice. It's about 2.5 miles wide and is hurtling through space at 41,000 miles an hour.

Scientists — many now working from a mission control in Germany — have been planning this for 10 years, at a cost of $1.6 billion.

The probe, called Rosetta, is about the size of a washing machine. It is expected to land on the comet around 4 p.m. GMT, 11 a.m. ET.

On Wednesday, the first landing component, called Philae, was deployed.

"It's on its own now," Stephan Ulamec, Philae lander manager at the DLR German Aerospace Center, told the Associated Press.

The AP reported:

ESA announced early Wednesday that the 100-kilogram (220-pound) lander's active descent system, which uses thrust to prevent the craft from bouncing off the comet's surface, could not be activated. Instead, the agency is relying on ice screws and a harpoon system to secure the lander.

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Here's a big-picture timeline of the spacecraft orbiting the comet:

This is a breaking news story. Check back here and visit BuzzFeed News on Twitter for updates.

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